Tuesday, December 10, 2013


During a very relaxed visit with my sister in New Mexico, I enjoyed knitting while she crocheted.  I re-learned how to knit as I experimented with making wristers. See my previous post (Knitting, below) and my most recent column:

(printed in the Danvers Herald Thursday December 5; posted online December 8)

Here are some photos of wristers past and present.  At right you can see the old worn blue wristers from my childhood, and a gray one I had knit years ago.

On the internet I found some simple instructions for knitting wristers. I printed several variants, and bought them in my suitcase, hoping that my sister might have yarn and needles.

As she drove me from the airport to her home, I mentioned my wish to try knitting again. We stopped and bought knitting supplies en route, selecting yellow and black, the colors of The Expandable Brass Band in which I play.
My first knitting attempt (casting on stitches, above) in over 40 years!
Progress was quick. For this first pair, I was using size 10 knitting needles. The resulting wristers turned out to be too large for me, but perhaps good for another musician in our band. 

After I finished that first pair of black and yellow wristers, I switched to size 6 needles for the next pair. My sister had given me a big yellow polka-dotted bag, which worked well to hold the yarn as I knit. Here I am sitting in her living room, knitting a new pattern.  
Note the short round needles used this time. I'd never tried that style before. Very handy.
I changed the pattern on this one, knitting K2, P2 ribbing all the way up.
Ah!  Nice snug fit.

By the time I returned to Massachusetts, I had knit three pairs and was working on a 4th.  On the cold morning of Sunday December 8, as our band played outdoors for a fundraiser (the Hot Chocolate Run, Northampton, MA), several of my fellow musicians appreciated the warm wristers. Over 5,000 runners and walkers passed us as we played.   [See photos on our band's Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ExpandableBrassBand]

Friday, November 29, 2013


Long ago I learned to knit, sitting attentively beside Cousin Marion at Pine Knoll, the old family homestead in the Hathorne section of Danvers. That house, and the four old ladies who lived there, connected me to the past. Stepping into that dark old house was like stepping into a museum. Objects from the past were everywhere. But I wasn't invited to explore the various rooms, nor allowed to touch the fragile old toys, unless given special permission and supervised by one of the great aunts or cousins. Most of my visits were spent in the "sitting room" on the main floor. There on the overstuffed chairs and sofa we sat and socialized, sometimes with sweet lemonade (summer) or ribbon candy (winter holidays) offered to us. Aunt May and Aunt Margaret (sisters of my grandfather William Nichols) and Cousins Annie and Marion (another pair of sisters) sometimes sat around a card table and played a card game I didn't understand; the cover for that card table had pockets into which some cards were tucked. I was more interested in the kittens on the floor, or looking at picture books, in my younger years. But one year, when I was older, Marion decided to teach me to knit. She provided the needles and yarn, and the pattern. Under her guidance, I started knitting a green sweater. I returned many, many times to that sitting room to sit with her and knit. That sweater was a l-o-n-g project. This week, while visiting my sister in New Mexico, I have resumed knitting, selecting a much shorter project. My next column, submitted to the Danvers Herald this week, is about my knitting experiences.

My cousin Dave Brewster recently digitized and shared some old family photos (Kodachrome images from his father's archive). My sister and I have had fun looking at them.  Here is one of a family gathering --in that Pine Knoll sitting room-- at Christmas time.

Cousin Marion is sitting in the arm chair on the left, just as I remember her.  I am sitting on the floor, lower left.  My sister Jean, dressed in red, is sitting in the lap of our cousin Nancy Nichols.  The young man in the foreground is our cousin C. Stuart Brewster.

In the next picture, the sofa in the sitting room is crowded with relatives. My grandmother Nana, left,  is beside great aunt May.  My mother, Janet Cutler Nichols, is leaning forward at right.
I'm delighted to see this photographic documentation of the old sitting room.  No one took pictures, I'm sure, while I was there knitting, or on routine days when the room was without company.  In my mind I can visualize some of it, but these old photos do help jog the memory.

Friday, November 22, 2013


Please have patience if you are waiting for me to post old photos of the stonewalls described in my October column about Stonewalls and mentioned in my Oct 10th blog entry. I did find some interesting photos from my childhood days, pulled them out of albums, and intended to scan them. That was over a month ago. They still sit there, awaiting a period of free time.

Other priorities intervened. In a journal entry Nov 8, 2013, I wrote,
"I have been rushing from one task to another all day, all week really, in a never-ending To-Do List treadmill, racing against deadlines."  Looking back, I think that statement applies to the past two months. I've been heavily involved with the Holyoke Public Library project, a $14.3 M building campaign to renovate our 1902 library building and expand it for services in the 21st Century.

Today, November 22, 2013, is the Grand Re-Opening and Official Ribbon-Cutting at the Holyoke Public Library.  Much patience  --and hard work-- has been involved over the past 8-10 years as this project has moved from initial dream to reality. I'm delighted with the result.  If you are ever in Holyoke, MA, come see this spectacular building, designed by Finegold Alexander + Associates of Boston. It combines old and new in dramatic ways.

A year ago I set a goal of decreasing the amount of time I devote to certain non-profit organizations and committees. I'm trying to reduce my outside commitments so that I'll have more time for reflecting, relaxing, and writing, especially the writing of family stories, as well as more time for visiting far-flung family. I knew that it might take a few years for all my terms-of-office to expire and my roles and responsibilities to diminish.  I'm trying to be patient during this transition. The Library project, for instance, has stretched on past a hoped-for opening in late summer.

Some time ago I bought an airline ticket to visit my sister Jean in NM and celebrate my niece's birthday (November 22).  Today I am enjoying hours of leisure in rural New Mexico, far away from my To Do lists at home.  It is easy to be patient here. I gaze out at fresh snow. Inside, I smile to see so many items from our shared childhood, reminders of Danvers. I'm looking forward to playing Scrabble with Jean later when she comes home from her studio. Life is good.

Friday, October 25, 2013


I remember a stand of sumac north of Nichols Street (across from my grandparents' home) in which we used to play.  It was sort of a special world, a forest of sumac, away from parents and the rest of our lives.  Many hours, over many years, were spent there in idle play.  

At dusk Sunday I saw this beautiful stand of sumac ... 
I felt compelled to enter and experience it from the inside, as I used to enjoy doing so long ago.
Yes! Just as I remember it.  The stems are tall, slender, and slightly fuzzy.
And of course the colors of the leaves are brilliant and beautiful at this time of year.  I love the mixture of oranges and reds on display in stands of sumac.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Stone walls

This month I have written a column about stone walls. Seeing the new walls under construction this summer at Conifer Hill prompted me to consider the old walls that were there in my childhood.

There's quite an art to building attractive stone walls from such irregularly-shaped rocks. I like the resulting texture and I marvel at the relatively flat top surface.
Across the street from Conifer Hill Commons is another stone wall, this one closer in size and style to the ones I recall. It borders the office park, but a slight squint of my eye can transform it into the old wall running --in exactly the same location-- by Granddaddy's garage and the wooded path leading ahead to our back yard.  I almost expect to be able to climb over this wall, walk between the trees and building shown here, and proceed to the little house where I lived for my first 14 years.
Gazing at this wall, at this angle, I can picture the trapeze my father hung on one tree inside the wall, not far from the office where my mother and father worked. They had converted Granddaddy's garage into a small factory for making hearing aids. This was the location of the beginning of Nichols & Clark, Inc., makers of UNEX hearing aids. I played outside while they worked. Around behind the little building, on the side towards our garden, was space for horse-shoes, a game enjoyed by some of the Nichols and Clark employees at break time.  (In my August column I wrote of playing with carbon paper and adding blue markings to a white garage door; that mischief happened here.) 

Are there any photos of the old stone walls of my childhood? I've been looking through photo albums and piles of loose prints. No one wasted precious photographic film on walls, I guess. The best I could find were some photos of us with glimpses of wall in the background, often out of focus, naturally. I intend to scan a few examples and post them. Stay tuned...  
[Update 5/9/14: I've posted some old photos of stone walls in an entry titled "Signs of spring and old memories."]

Meanwhile, I have found an interesting webpage about the history of stone walls in New England:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Enlarged map

One of my relatives has asked for a larger view of the 1832 map of Danvers. (See previous post.) I've taken a new photo today, which I've attempted to post here in the largest size.  But the blogger software limits the size that can be displayed, unfortunately.   See below for alternatives.

I have now posted two larger images on another server:
For better quality images, I would need to use a better camera or, ideally, to remove the fragile map from its frame and have it scanned on a large flat-bed scanner, or take it to a professional to do the job. A project for another day...

Fortunately the Danvers Archival Center has copies of this published map.  And the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library has a copy that is viewable online:
You can zoom in to focus on details.  Very nice!    [viewed 9/21/21]

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

1832 Danvers map

Here's a closeup of an old Danvers map that hangs on my wall.  The date on the printed map is 1832. The pencil annotations are undated, but most likely were added by my great-grandfather Andrew Nichols, a surveyor and civil engineer who in 1861 built a cottage at 98 Preston Street and raised his family there.  He lived until 1921.

This image helped me as I wrote the ending of my previous post --describing where Nichols Street used to run.

Compare this image with the photos in my previous post.  The straight road running from SW to NE is the Newburyport Turnpike (Route 1).  The CVS now at the corner of Rte 1 and Conifer Hill Drive sits right where the home of "J.Nichols" is marked on this map.  That was the farm house of Andrew's uncle and aunt, with whom he lived and for whom he worked as a young man.

Dale's Hill is drawn to the right -- resembling a fuzzy caterpillar. Just south of that hill another "Nichols" home is marked, and an "Elm Tree." There was a huge elm near the entrance gate to the Locust Lawn estate.  (See old photo I posted in March).

Here is a view of the 1832 map as it hangs in my home.  Click on the image to enlarge it. (Or see the links in my next blog entry.)

The map was made by John W. Proctor, 1832.

The upper left corner of the map includes a panel titled General Estimates:

Area of the Town .........17,112 acres
Ponds of fresh water           166 acres
Rivers and creeks of salt water ....... 300 acres
Fresh meadows ....1,200
Salt marshes....    50
Wood Land (productive)...    3,000
Rocky (waste) Land ...       4,000
Land covered by roads ...    480
Whole extent of roads ...      80 miles.


1783, Sept   1,921
1800      2,643
1810      3,127
1820      3,646
1830      4,228

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Conifer Hill update

On Sunday afternoon August 25, 2013, I had an opportunity for a quick ride through Danvers. We drove north on Rte 1 and approached the familiar area of my childhood.  I spotted the red Putnam Pantry Candies building ahead on the right -- a meaningful landmark at the intersection of Rte 62. That building hasn't changed much, but most of the other landmarks I knew in the 1950's and 1960's are long gone.

The Danvers Liquor Store at the next intersection has now been replaced by a large CVS store. We turned right onto the street there, the old street of my childhood. In my mind's eye I can see my father's shop, my grandfather's house, our little house (#120) where I lived for my first 14 years, and then the bigger house (#121) up on the hill that was my home base for years. Even after I had married and moved away, I returned to visit my parents there.  I can visualize those old places so clearly!

But the scene is very different today. Nichols Street has been renamed Conifer Hill Drive, and a huge new housing complex called Conifer Hill Commons is under construction.  I had seen the construction site in April, noted the dramatic re-shaping of the hill, and pondered the fate of the trees on the narrow ridge. Now I was curious to see what was emerging.

I picked up a rental application form at the main gate and learned that applications received by August 16 would qualify for the initial lottery for the property -- that lottery to be held on Tuesday, August 27, 2013.  TODAY!

The address of Conifer Hill Commons is 121 Conifer Hill Drive. Its entrance drive is located right where Nichols Street and Speedwell Place used to intersect, right where our driveway to 121 Nichols Street began. But our driveway was a new construction in 1957, cutting through the old stone wall of the Locust Lawn property to provide convenient access to the new house we were constructing there. 

Earlier generations would describe it differently. That location is where Preston Street once ended, intersecting with Nichols Street, which in those days continued straight north over the side of Nichols Hill (or Dales Hill) towards its eventual connection to Ferncroft Road.  (In my next post I'll share images of an early map.)  Even I remember walking up that unpaved section of Nichols Street through the thick woods and then emerging into an open slope facing northwest towards Ferncroft.  I also remember when my grandparents' address, just around the corner, was 123 Preston Street.  At some point (perhaps during the 1949/50 reconstruction of Rte 1 to reduce hills and eliminate the stop light at Rte 62), the Preston Street crossing of Route 1 was blocked and the "orphaned" piece of Preston Street east of Rte 1 was re-named Nichols Street. My grandparents' address had to change to 124 Nichols Street, though they didn't move at all.  The formerly straight Nichols St then bent around the corner at our house, leaving "orphaned" the northward unpaved segment (which no longer connected across Rte 1 to Ferncroft, so it was little used.)  That bend is still recognizable today. New stonewalls have been built to replace the old ones, I'm happy to report. 

Given this history, I can certainly understand why the Nichols Street segment I knew so well now has a new name. Route 95 had cut it off from the lower section of Nichols Street, so it too became a disconnected fragment, or orphan.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ice cream on 114

Yesterday I attended the Antique & Classic Boat Show in Salem, and then stopped at Chandlers on Route 114 for ice cream.  I enjoyed a huge cone of peppermint stick ice cream while my husband savored a hot fudge sundae.

Stopping along 114 for ice cream was a strong tradition in my family.  My father especially liked ice cream, and he frequently traveled this route to and from Marblehead, where he raced his 16' sloop PAL.  I often was part of his sailing crew.  If we had won the race that day, we needed to stop, of course, and celebrate with ice cream.  If we had lost the race, my father said we needed ice cream to compensate, and to lift our spirits.

Sometimes we stopped at Treadwell's and sometimes we stopped at Chandler's. We enjoyed the ice cream cones at both places.  I'm delighted to see that both are still in business on this well-travelled route to Danvers. (Both are located in Peabody.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Danvers Archival Center

The Danvers Archival Center has recently redone their website, which you can find at www.danverslibrary.org/archive/

I recommend the article, "Discovering Paul Revere in a Dried Prune Box," written by Richard Trask, Town Archivist.   I enjoyed reading it, and thought of my experiences peering into dusty old boxes long stored in attics.

One never knows what treasures or curiosities will emerge.

A few weeks ago while looking for something else, I happened to find a folder of papers related to my summer employment in 1962.  Why did I still have that old paperwork?  Opening one folded sheet of paper, I saw the clear instruction on the top line: KEEP CARBON COPY FOR YOUR RECORDS. I guess I followed that instruction pretty well!  That old piece of paper jogged my memory, triggering a column topic for this month: "Creating with carbon paper."

I haven't had time this month to continue the sorting of old family papers (see previous post). In fact several months may pass before I'll have time to indulge in reading the old family writings.  I know those boxes contain much Danvers history.  I'll certainly stay in contact with the Danvers Archival Center to share information about any Danvers-related 'treasures' I find in the process.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Aunt May

This month I began opening a series of boxes of old family papers and making an inventory of what my cousin Janet has passed to me. Among the papers I've found many handwritten by my grandfather's sister, my great aunt Mary Eliot Nichols, known to us as "Aunt May."   I remember her fondly.

I'm especially pleased by some photographs of Aunt May and a 1959 Danvers Herald article about her long teaching career in Danvers.

The old newsprint is by now darkened and crumbling from the acid in its pulp paper, too fragile to last much longer. I have made a copy onto less acidic paper, and scanned it to post here. In the process I have added notes to correct an error in the printing of her name.

[Click on the image to enlarge it.]

I've found a copy of the original 1932 photograph that was reproduced in the paper; see below. 1932 is the year she retired from teaching, and the year she bought a Ford car we later called "Oswald."  [Type "Oswald" in this blog's search box, upper left, to find my previous postings about that car.]

Mary Eliot Nichols, as she looked in 1932.
The next photo of Aunt May is labeled (in pencil on the back) "Park St."  Thanks to the article summarizing her career, I know the significance of "Park St."  She taught at the Park Street School after many years at other schools. Thus the date must be in the 1920's.
"Park St"

Mary E. Nichols (no date)
Next I am posting an example of Aunt May's writing about her school years. This is an unfinished draft, undated.  She began,  "As I look from the window today I do not see what I saw in looking from it when I was four years old, then I saw a school house, which became for me well-known during the next nine years ..."  That would be the one-room Hathorne School on the Newburyport turnpike just south of her home. I attended that same one-room school (see my April 2007 column about first grade).   Here is a scanned copy of Aunt May's draft; click on each image to enlarge.

For my July column, I've written "Remembering Aunt May."  It was published in the Danvers Herald July 25 and posted online July 27.

Monday, July 8, 2013


I'm looking forward to a visit by my grandsons. I'm cleaning house and setting out special items they might enjoy. This morning I remembered the old "Bunnykins" bowls my sister and I had loved.  Only a few remain; I found them in a hidden corner of a cabinet, where they've been sitting unused for years. What fun to see them again!

As you can see, one bowl is very worn. I remember that one especially and am sure we used it daily for years.
To the Hunt Ball
The other bowl, a camping scene, looks newer and does not evoke strong childhood memories. It must have been acquired later, or was less popular with us.  I expect that my grandsons may like that one best.

We also had some wider, shallower bowls; I still have two of those, pictured here.

Does anyone else remember these bowls?  

Bath time for bunnykins
A special meal!

Above are close-ups of bunnykin scenes I recall so fondly.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Beatrix Potter

Here is a set of well-loved books: stories written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter. My grandfather, William Stanley Nichols, read these stories to me when I was very young and he was old (much older than in his photo, above). He lived next door to us and I liked to sit in his lap and look at the pictures as he shared these special little books.

A few weeks ago I wrote my June column about my memories of these books and the wonderful illustrations of animals which my cousin Janet copied onto the walls of her sons' bedroom. See my column in the Danvers Herald: Animals on the Wall (posted online June 24).

Last week I learned more about Beatrix Potter and sources that inspired her as she created drawings for one of these books: The Tailor of Gloucester (1903). I saw an example of her notebook and a few drawings on exhibit at The Victoria and Albert Museum, the same museum where she had examined 18th century costumes.

"No more Twist" note on unfinished buttonhole

Beatrix Potter's sketch and notes about the waistcoat embroidery.

Waistcoat worn by Mayor of Gloucester

At right is a photo of the museum room in which I saw the Beatrix Potter items (in glass cases on left). This temporary exhibit runs from March 19 to September 15, 2013, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It is in Room 102 --really a hallway-- on the third floor. Ken and I spent some hours searching this huge, fascinating museum before we located the exhibit.

Quoting from the introduction to the Beatrix Potter exhibit:
Beatrix was a frequent visitor to the V&A and in March 1903, while preparing the illustration for her tale, she was delighted to discover some beautiful 18th century clothes in a case in a 'dark corner of the Goldsmith's Court.' Museum staff permitted her to view the costumes laid flat on tables in their office so she could record the details of the rich embroideries. Her illustrations are so accurate that it is possible to identify the original garments she saw, including the lady mouse's lavish dress and the Mayor's cream-coloured satin waistcoat...

The Victoria and Albert Museum has the world's largest collection of Beatrix Potter drawings and writings.  "As a child and young adult Potter visited the V&A to study and copy prints and drawings, and, later, costumes..."  I had hoped to see more examples of Miss Potter's art, but most of the collection is kept in another location for which one must make an appointment.  For more about the V&A Beatrix Potter collections, visit  http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/beatrix-potter-collections/.  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Animals on the wall

I have on my wall a recent painting by my cousin Janet Nichols Derouin. Two mice with beady black eyes look at me as I walk by.  Well, no, they are actually looking at acorns they have gathered and a hole where they might store their acorns. The hole is real: Janet painted the mice and acorns on the surface of an old board with a knot hole. I like the old wood and the natural scene with the mice.
These mice remind me of much earlier artwork by Janet on a bedroom wall in our grandfather's house in Danvers.  I remember cute mice and other animals inspired by illustrations in children's books.  Today Janet told me the story of the origin of those wall paintings when she was a young mother in the 1950's -- a story I'll share in my next column.
Meanwhile Janet, now 83 and living in Maine, keeps on painting.  Her son Monty collects and prepares old boards for her and she uses the character of each board (e.g., its grain and texture) to inspire her painting.  Each summer she sells her paintings through a lovely gallery in Bridgton, Maine. If you're in that area, I recommend that you stop at LisaB's Summerplace , 268 Main Street, Bridgton, Maine (802-249-8967).   Lisa writes on her website,
 Our gallery of unparalleled Barn Board art is as special as the artist who creates it and well worth a trip in itself! 
More photos of Janet's board paintings: